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Rainbow Railroad to participate in new US refugee resettlement program

State Department announced Welcome Corps on Thursday

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A flyer from the U.N. Refugee Agency in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on Jan. 29, 2019, advises migrants who are fleeing violence, persecution, war or discrimination have a right to apply for refugee status. Rainbow Railroad is participating in a new State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group that works with LGBTQ and intersex refugees and asylum seekers will participate in a State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced Welcome Corps, which a senior State Department official noted will allow Americans to “form private sponsor groups to support refugees and help them integrate into American society as thriving members of their local communities.” Another senior State Department official told reporters the program in its first year hopes to “mobilize at least” 10,000 Americans “to step forward as private sponsors and offer a welcoming hand to at least” 5,000 refugees.

Rainbow Railroad is among the organizations with which the State Department has partnered to help implement the program. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration is also participating in Welcome Corps.

“We are excited to see the impact of this program, which will empower communities of care — LGBTQI+ Americans supporting LGBTQI+ refugees. This program will help at-risk LGBTQI+ people get to safety across the United States,” said Rainbow Railroad in a press release. “As an organization with extensive experience and expertise in private sponsorship, including in Canada, Rainbow Railroad was proud to be a consultative partner in the development of this new U.S. program, advocating for a model that will support LGBTQI+ persons at risk.”

“We are excited to be recognized as a private sponsorship organization by the U.S. consortium which is going to be operating this private sponsorship program,” added the organization. “This is an important moment for global LGBTQI+ rights and the advancement of refugee support in the United States, and we look forward to the opportunity to get more at-risk LGBTQI+ people to safety through this new program.”  

Rainbow Railroad in 2022 helped resettle LGBTQ and intersex refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia and more than 30 other countries. President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

The White House earlier this month announced the creation of a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that officials said combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work.”

Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app “can seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for a temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization, provided that they: Pass righrous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; have a supporter in the United States who commits to providing financial and other support and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.” The Biden administration also announced it will expand the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization. 

Immigration Equality and the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration are among the myriad organizations that sharply criticized the White House over its expanded use of “expedited removal.” 

The Biden administration has sought to end Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, but Texas and more than a dozen other states filed a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled the Trump-era must remain in place. Oral arguments are expected to take place in the case next month. 

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State Department

State Department spokesperson calls for ‘thorough’ investigation into Kenyan activist’s murder

Edwin Chiloba found inside metal box on Jan. 4

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Edwin Chiloba (Photo courtesy of Edwin Chiloba's Instagram page)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday reiterated calls for Kenyan authorities to thoroughly investigate the brutal murder of Edwin Chiloba, a prominent LGBTQ and intersex activist and model.

“We urge and expect the Kenyans to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into his death,” Price, who is openly gay, told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “And of course if there’s anything we can do to assist, we stand ready to do that.”

Authorities in Uasin Gishu County in western Kenya on Jan. 4 found Chiloba’s body inside a metal box that had been left on the side of a road.

The Nairobi Star on Sunday reported Jackton Odhiambo has confessed to killing Chiloba because he cheated on him. 

The newspaper notes authorities have arrested three other people who allegedly helped dispose of Chiloba’s body. The Nairobi Star further reported that two of Odhiambo’s friends who reportedly helped him murder Chiloba remain at-large.

“We sent his condolences to his family, to his loved ones but also to the LGBTQI+ community in Kenya during their time of mourning,” said Price on Monday. “There are so many in that community in Kenya who benefitted from his leadership, from his visibility, from his support.”

“Violence against LGBTQI+ persons — or anyone, of course — is unacceptable, but when violence stems from possible bias or stigma, it indirectly harms all members of the targeted community,” he added. “The ultimate act of intolerance has no place in free and open societies.”

Price is among those who has publicly condemned Chiloba’s murder.

Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

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State Department spokesperson criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.

Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price. 

“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”

The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013. 

The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.

Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.

Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.

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U.S. envoy for global LGBTQ, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.

Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.

The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.

“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”

“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.” 

“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.

“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”

President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

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